Bali seems wonderfully cut off from the rest of the world. I had brought my laptop along, but hadn't even opened it up. A rare thing for me. That all changed, though, after the tsunami hit Asia on December 26, 2004, a Sunday.
We were blissfully unaware of the disaster until later that day, when I walked into the hotel room and turned on the TV to check out CNN - the first time we'd had it on during the vacation. Needless to say I was stunned to learn about the disaster. Watching the early coverage gave me the same surreal feeling I had had when I learned about the 9/11 attacks -- in this case, the death toll numbers kept jumping up every time we turned on the TV.
Fortunately, the quake's epicenter was quite far away from us. In case you're not familiar with Indonesia's geography, here's a hopefully helpful refresher:
The earthquake that triggered the tsunami was located off the western coast of Bande Aceh (the red dot). Bali is about 1200 miles to the south east (the green dot). It was as if a tsunami had hit Houston and were were vacationing in Boston.
Nevertheless, it was scary, as our resort was right on the beach, and our room was on ground level. Had the earthquake occurred further south, we would have been hit hard. Ironically, both the American and British governments had issued a terrorist warning about Indonesia right before Christmas. We heard that many tourists had subsequently cancelled their Bali visits in favor of Phuket, the famous resort community which lost hundreds of foreign tourists as well as Thais to the tsunami.
I really wasn't sure how to react to the tragedy. The "humanist" in me wanted to grieve for the massive loss of life, but the "vacationer" in me just wanted to zone out and keep drinking smoothies. The "journalist" in me wanted to race around and record how Bali rallied to raise money, while the "voyeur" wanted to watch it all unfold on CNN. Finally, the "parent" in me realized that the kids would have an even harder time processing it all, and that I didn't want to ruin their vacation nor implant an unhealthy fear of the ocean.
In the end, I decided the best thing to do was to answer the kids' questions, make sure our friends and relatives knew we were OK, spend lots of money locally to make up for what would undoubtedly prolong Bali's two-year, economically devastating tourist drought, and tell everyone I know to visit Bali (since it was untouched, remains magical, and Indonesia needs the tourism dollars).
We did take two photos of the many tsunami-relief stations that sprung up.
I was fascinated to watch Indonesian TV present the story. At first there was no news for the first 12 hours or so, then there was blanket coverage, then there were endless fund-raising concerts. It seemed as if I wasn't the only one unsure of how to react.
Next up: the girls get hands-on...